American Chica

Arana, Marie. American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood. New York: Dial Press, 2001.

Reason read: August is called the selfish month by some. Nancy Pearl called her autobiography chapter in More Book Lust “Me, Me, Me” which made me think to read American Chica in August.

Marie Arana grew up in an intercultural family with a South American father born in Peru, and a North American mother. Her parents met in Boston, Massachusetts of all places. This all sounds exotic and fun, but it wasn’t always easy for Arana to know how to fit in on either side of the cultural divide.
The very first sentence of American Chica sets the entire tone of Arana’s memoir, “The corridors of my skull are haunted” (p 5). Indeed, Arana’s family history hides ghosts and her story prods proverbial skeletons out of closets. I won’t give away the details but there was one moment in Arana’s story that had me holding my breath. She has a brush with impropriety that is tinged with the guilty question of did I bring this on myself? Is it somehow my fault? I could relate.The most poignant pieces of Arana’s writing was when she was remembering her innocence; the times when prejudice didn’t darken her childhood.

Other lines I liked, “It is more than a simple resentment, less than an all-out war” (p 63).

Author fact: According to the back flap of American Chica, Arana served on the board of directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Book Critics Circle.

Book trivia: Arana’s memoir does not include any photographs except a family portrait in the beginning.

Nancy said: Pearl called American Chica “a beautifully written memoir” (More Book Lust p 167).

BookLust Twist: As mentioned earlier, from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Me, Me, Me: Autobiographies” (p 167).


African Queen

Forester, Cecil Scott. The African Queen. New york: The Modern Library, 1940.

Reason read: I needed a classic I’ve always wanted to read for the Portland Public Library 2019 Reading challenge. This one fit the bill. And, and! And, it was short!

Who doesn’t know the movie version of this book? Thanks to Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and a little Academy Award for Best Actor, everyone has seen it. Nearly everyone that is, except me. Fear not, it’s on the list.

To set the stage: Africa, World War I. Rose is high spirited, a spunky woman despite being a strait-laced and virginal missionary’s sister. She is out for revenge for the death of her brother; she wants to torpedo the Germans to strike a blow for England. Enter gin-swilling mechanic Charlie Allnut and his river boat, the African Queen. Rose is only too eager to learn all about the African Queen to determine its full usefulness to exact her revenge – torpedoing the German police boat, the Konigin Luise. Rose’s patriotism and lust for adventure adds up to a woman Allnut has never seen the likes of before. She somehow convinces him to take on her quest and it is her feisty nature that gets her and Allnut through deadly rapids, thick mangroves, choking weeds, malaria infested swarms of mosquitoes and stifling heat down the Bora delta.
Typical and predictable, a relationship blooms between Rose and Charlie, but how could it not when confined on a river boat for days on end? As they say, misery loves company. Despite seeing the relationship a mile away Forester reissued his story so that he had the opportunity to present the end of the story as he originally intended. It’s not what you expect.

Lines I just had to quote, “Allnut tried to keep his amusement out of sight” (p 39), while Rose was described thusly, “A woman sewing has a powerful weapon at her disposal when engaged in a duel with a man” (p 91). He’s bumbling and she’s feisty.
More lines I liked, “Allnut would not have exchanged Rose for all the fried fish shops in the world” (p 165). Aint romance grand?

As an aside, I just love an author who uses the word willynilly.

Author fact: C.S. Forester might be better known for his Horatio Hornblower sea adventures.

Book trivia: The African Queen was made into a movie in 1951 as I mentioned before.

Nancy said: Pearl only mentioned The African Queen because Forester is known for it, above and beyond his Horatio Hornblower series.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Sea Stories” (p 217). As you guessed it, I deleted this from the Challenge list because The African Queen takes place on an African river, not the high seas.


Die Trying

Child, Lee. Die Trying. Read by Jonathan McClain. New York: Penguin Audio, 2012.

Reason read: to continue the series started in honor of New York becoming a state…I know, it doesn’t make any sense.

Once again, Jack Reacher is in the wrong place at the wrong time. In an effort to help a disabled woman wrangle her week’s worth of dry cleaning Reacher is held at gun point and kidnapped along with the woman on crutches. Only she is no ordinary woman. She is Holly Johnson, daughter to the chairman of the joint chief of staff, only the highest ranking military post in the United States. Now it’s a race against…what? No one has taken credit for the kidnapping. There hasn’t been a ransom note. No demands for her safe return whatsoever. Why was Holly taken?
I enjoyed Child’s “peep show” storytelling. He would show a glimpse of what the bad guys were up to (obviously always no good) for only a few pages and then return to Holly’s FBI rescuers and their efforts to figure out where she had gone.
Additionally, Child’s knowledge of guns and their inner workings seemed didactic at times, but in truth it was fascinating. I reread the description of exactly what happens scientifically when a gun is fired several times.

Author fact: Child is a former television producer.

Book trivia: The scary thing is, this could be in our headlines today. Our nation has become so polarized and we are so numb to violence it wouldn’t take much for “this tinderbox to blow in your face” as Natalie says.

Nancy said: When reviewing Killing Floor I mentioned Pearl had previously avoided Child’s novels because she thought they would be too violent. She goes on to say, “Be forewarned: the books do indeed contain some intense violence (some I had to read with my eyes closed, really)” (from More Book Lust on page 42).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the super obvious chapter, Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 41).


Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object

Colwin, Laurie. Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object. New York: Viking Press, 2001.

Reason read: August is Grief Awareness month and there is oh so much grief in this book.

How do you love an individual who constantly flirts with the potential for death? How do you behave in a relationship or a partnership with someone who has a history of self destructive behavior such as this: breaking his collarbone after being thrown by a horse, snapping his leg after skiing, or gouging his shoulder after rock climbing (more like rock falling)? How does a marriage survive such reckless disregard for staying together? The answer is it really doesn’t. But Elizabeth Bax is attracted to James Dean. She likes the bad boys.
She knew she had every right to worry when Sam, her daredevil husband of five years, went for “one last” sail before an autumn squall picked up. Sam’s brother Patrick was already calling the coast guard knowing full well something bad was about to happen or more likely, already had. It is not a spoiler to tell you Sam died. What follows is an in depth examination of the human heart and how it tries to put itself together after being shattered. Shine On is a short book that asks the question is grief coupled with love a betrayal?

Lines I liked, “He had squashed his recklessness down to an ironic sort of caution that was a slap in his own face” (p 3), “You have to commit experience to your heart and let it change you..” (p 178).

Author fact: Colwin died at the very young age of forty-eight after suffering a heart attack.

Book trivia: This is a super short book. You could read it in a weekend.

Nancy said: Pearl said not to miss Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object even though the chapter was about Colwin’s books on food.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the interesting chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91)…except Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object has absolutely nothing to do with food.


Beauty

McKinley, Robin. Beauty: the Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast. New York: HarperCollins, 1978.

Reason read: August is Fairy Tale month.

Here’s a question for you. Do you enjoy an adaptation or a retelling more or less if you don’t remember the details of the original? For me, I don’t remember the details of Beauty and the Beast except to say the Disney version was centered around Belle, her sickly woodsman father, the Beast, and the talking tea kettle. I remember it also had singing furniture and, of course, a droopy rose was at the center of the story. McKinley’s version has three daughters, Gracie, Hope and Honour. Honour, nicknamed Beauty, is the protagonist of the story and ironically, is not at all beautiful like her sisters. Instead she is homely, unromantic, and scholarly; the bravest and strongest of the bunch. Honour’s father has fallen on hard times as a shipping merchant and the family must move to the country. Enter the proximity of an enchanted/haunted forest. We first learn about these mysterious woods when Ger becomes angry with Beauty about being in the woods of Blue Hill.
To speed up the telling up the story you know so well: father runs into trouble in the enchanted forest, has a dust up with the Beast, and promises to send a daughter to the Beast to save his own hide. Beauty, being the bravest and most admirable, is the logical choice. Beauty falls in love with Beast despite his appearance and by turns becomes a looker herself. When she promises to marry Beast, the spell is broken. The end.

Author fact: McKinley and I went to the same high school. I can remember teachers mentioning her in English class.

Book trivia: Beauty is McKinley’s first novel.

Nancy said: Pearl included Beauty in a list of books that are sure to be “teen pleasers…great choices for teenage girls as well as their mothers” said this about McKinley, “McKinley is another major contributor…” (More Book Lust). The inside flap promises Beauty is appropriate for ages ten and up.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in two different chapters. First, in “Best for Teens” (p 23) and again in “Fractured Fairy Tales” (p 93).


Open Water

Rosen, Mikael. Open Water: the History and Technique of Swimming. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2019.

Reason read: part of the Early review program for LibraryThing.

Open Water is everything and anything you need to know about the sport of swimming; or dare I say the art of swimming; the obsession of swimming? Rosen’s book is practically an encyclopedia of swimming facts as well as biography of famous swimmers and a how-to for improving your own technique in the water. It’s a well laid out, beautiful to look at book complete with maps, photographs and more. Fascinating.

As an aside, I have heard many, many stories about how my maternal grandmother used to be a beautiful swimmer. Just recently my aunt reminisced about watching her mother cut through the water with such powerful grace it brought tears to her eyes. I would have liked to have seen that. My maternal died of cancer long before I was born when my own mother was thirteen.

Confessional: Until recently I hoarded my early review books knowing I couldn’t sell them or really donate them anywhere. I tried giving some away but that wasn’t really successful either, so in my basement they languish (still). Open Water will be my first and only gift to Natalie Merchant. She is an avid swimmer and I feel she might, just might, find it interesting. What else am I going to do with it?
Postscript to the confessional: I gave the book to her tour manager. I will probably never know if she liked it.


Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews

Fielding, Henry. An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews. Cambridge: Gordon Fraser at St. John’s College, 1930.

Reason read: This was supposed to be read way back in April with Pamela by Samuel Richardson. It sort of didn’t happen that way.

Everyone loves a good cat fight…but a fair one. An Apology… was Fielding’s direct satirical attack on Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, however Fielding was a coward. He first published An Apology…under the false name of Conny Keyber. It was supposed to be the true events or what really happened with Pamela in a mere sixty pages. According to Fielding, Pamela is not a chaste and sweet girl. Instead she is wicked and full of lust. Instead of being seduced by her former employer’s son, Fielding thinks she entrapped him into marrying her.
I have to admit I can’t speak to the steadfast morality of a teenager, but I agreed with Fielding in that I found it completely unbelievable that a fifteen year old girl would continue her diaries through all the chaos and upheaval.

Author fact: Henry Fielding also wrote the novel, Tom Jones which is not on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: According to the introduction to Shamela, written by Brian Downs, it is necessary to be familiar with Pamela in order to understand Shamela. Of course.

Nancy said: Pearl said Shamela is a portion of the novel Joseph Andrews. In actuality, Shamela was published before Joseph and if they are one and the same I completely missed it..

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Epistolary Novels: Take a Letter” (p 79).